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Clemson vs FSU: Jordan Travis Has Help This Year

FSU is quietly ascending. How does Clemson match up?

Syndication: The Greenville News Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Alright, after a solid couple of weeks and a phenomenal home atmosphere to warm my hands on before the dark cold months arrive, here comes the first real “trap game” if I am to fall into an over-used cringey cliche. Now that Clemson has a stranglehold on the division, the national narrative has slowly shifted back toward Clemson taking its rightful place in the College Football Playoff again.

But this contest in Tallahassee is far more daunting than last week’s supposed trap or letdown game. Boston College was never really going to threaten Clemson with an upset no matter how mid Clemson’s offense looked in the first half; it was more about working through growing pains at wide receiver, though the run game left a lot to be desired yet again. The latter must change Saturday night.

Florida State has plenty of solid and even a few elite pieces. Not yet enough to start any sort of conversation about a return to national prominence, but enough to put me on upset alert. (Another horrible cliche, didn’t y’all miss me)? I’m not a gambler but the point spread is a stunningly narrow 3 and a half points. What does Vegas see which orange-tinted lenses don’t?

Though I am not well-versed at all on offensive concepts like I am defensive ones, I want to focus on the real threat in this game and how Clemson should/will defend it: Jordan Travis at quarterback.

Travis is perhaps the wildest of wild cards on Clemson’s entire schedule; I’ve not seen a QB with such a gap between his highs and his lows in some time. His film sends me back to the nightmare we lived in back in the Kevin Steele and even early Brent Venables eras: mobile QBs ruin everything.

Though every offensive staff will tell you they’re a run-first offense, truly the entire FSU attack runs through Travis. He hasn’t been intently used to carry the ball like Cunningham at Louisville or even like Clemson relies on DJ — certainly in an effort to safeguard a player who is already a health risk — but Travis’ elusiveness and playmaking ability off the cuff are the scariest part of this matchup.
Plays breaking down and finding a big receiver in man coverage against Clemson’s corners of late? That’s not usually a high-percentage approach, but it can be when look you at Clemson’s defensive structure; particularly if you have a big receiver who can beat isolated Clemson corners:

Thinking more big picture or philosophically, FSU has finally put together a line which isn’t entirely overmatched and can competently run their staple outside zones, stretch, and pin and pull:

This is certainly the area of greatest improvement for FSU, and their rushing attack has made life far easier for Travis. Through the air they throw an alarming amount of screens to stress your perimeter (thank goodness we got Furman out of our system) before taking more deep shots (thank goodness we got Wake Forest out of our system) than most teams in the ACC when they like the matchup or when Travis is forced off schedule and makes magic happen.

This is the kind of game Wes Goodwin will need to make sure his pressure isn’t leaving either corner on an island like we saw against Wake Forest. In fact I’d prefer the base Tampa 2 (with Trotter providing more athleticism at Mike than Clemson has seen in eons, this coverage is highly effective) or four-man fire zone blitzes over any sort of jailbreak blitzes on passing downs.

Clemson has called a lot of cover 6 this year — that’s a blend of cover 2 on the wide half of the field and cover 4 on the short half — and FSU will take their shots against it, especially when Mukuba isn’t playing strong safety and duly covering the deep wide half:

This defensive front is supposed to be elite, yet often Clemson calls blitzes and coverages which make you think the line is the weakness and the secondary can hold up one-on-one. Not to say Clemson should ditch its aggressiveness, but I’d like to see the staff challenge the line to get home with only four rushers more often; you need eyes on Travis from Carter or Simpson and this secondary needs more bodies in coverage than receivers in routes. That’s my take, at least — but don’t expect Goodwin to call it so conservatively. This game will be stressful or not based on how Clemson gets to Travis, and more importantly, what happens when they don’t.

FSU should’ve beaten NC State. Sure most of us around here feel NC State is rather overrated, but NC State is still a good defense to face on the road even if the stadium lacks the capability to host such a game. This isn’t the FSU we’ve known from the last 3-5 years, but neither is it anything resembling the peak Jimbo years.

It sounded like typical coachspeak when Dabo said it this week, but it’s the best summary of what needs to happen for Clemson to either pull away or find itself in a fight: whichever team runs the ball better probably wins.

The good news is Clemson’s run defense is on a historical pace. Stop FSU’s running game so Travis has to create, make him pay, and run the ball yourselves against FSU’s preferred two-high safety look. I’d prefer Streeter and the staff run fewer RPOs and force the run this week, but we know they’ll always take what’s given in the RPO and thus let the defense dictate to the offense. It’s on DJ to make the right read and the line to open some lanes so Clemson can run the ball themselves and not invite a scary FSU pass rush to throw DJ back into 2021 form.

Obviously Clemson feels great about stopping anyone on the ground, but we still await validation in Clemson’s own ground game. Unless the line creates long-awaited lanes for Shipley and Mafah, I cautiously lean toward the defenses. Still, this is a much better matchup for Clemson thanks primarily to its run defense and ability to counter FSU’s strengths. Clemson isn’t explosive so probably won’t find breathing room until late, but that’s who they are this year and it will be enough.

Clemson 27, FSU 17